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Will My Morning Protein Shake Have a Coffee-Like Influence on My Bowels?

There’s only so much shit a man can take

Coffee and other caffeine-dense beverages have a well-earned reputation for placing you aboard the number two bus with clockwork-like efficiency. Some people, however, seem to think protein will do the same. But is that true? Will eating a steak or drinking a post-workout protein shake also send you rocketing off to the bathroom like Harry in Dumb and Dumber?

Yeah! Will protein send me to the bathroom?

In a sense, there’s a decent chance that any form of food intake will send you frantically waddling off to the bathroom. Your body has something called a gastrocolic reflex, which can be triggered whenever you eat anything, but which is most likely to be triggered when you eat a large or fat-laden meal. This biological response initiates a process by which your body instinctively expels waste material to make room for your inbound meal. So from this standpoint, whatever you eat — regardless of its macronutrient content — may trigger a fecal release. However, if you eat a protein-heavy meal that’s also cloaked in fat, like a fatty cut of steak with butter dripping from it, it’s more likely than other food to occasion a potty break.

That’s all well and good, but what about protein specifically?

Bodily reflexes aside, what ordinarily prompts bountiful bowel movements is dietary fiber, which is prized primarily because it increases the heft of your stool, and which makes your waste material easier to pass completely through your rectum. All of the richest sources of fiber are plant-based, and all of them are either low or conspicuously lacking in protein content. On the other end of the spectrum, protein sources are often specifically prescribed to cancer patients and others suffering from too high a level of fecal frequency. This is done to slow the passage of food through their bodies. In other words, if you find yourself taking too many trips to Brownsville, protein won’t usually be the culprit revving the engine to get you there. 

This is crazy! I could have sworn I started going to the bathroom more after increasing my protein intake.

Let’s talk about that. There are a few ways in which protein can elicit defecation from those who consume it, but those reasons have more to do with the specific types of protein being ingested. First of all, dairy products are among the quickest and ostensibly painless ways to boost protein intake, and people looking to increase muscle mass in a healthy way often turn to dairy products to either consume on their own, or as the conveyance through which protein powder and other supplemental goodies can be transferred into the body. However, many millions of people — including the overwhelming majority of some racial and ethnic groups — are suffering from undiagnosed lactose intolerance or other forms of dairy-related sensitivity, and diarrhea is one of the ways these maladies can manifest themselves.

Also, the people adding protein powder to their milk may be setting themselves up for a double whammy, because whey protein — which dominates the list of the best-selling protein powders — is a milk-derived product. While whey is low in lactose, it’s not lactose free, and people who are sensitive to dairy products may have diarrhea if they consume protein supplements in either whey or casein forms.

If you’re taking a dairy-based form of protein or have been pounding down a lot of milk in your quest to bulk up, and you’ve found yourself beset by bouts of explosive diarrhea or loose stools, stop drinking the milk or protein powder and see if the situation corrects itself. Otherwise, the natural function of protein should slow down the passage of food through your body and keep you off of the number two bus for the foreseeable future.